Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Book Review: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I’m not sure whether or not I will also review the fiction I’m reading (I usually read one or two nonfiction and one fiction book at the same time). I don’t consider my self a lit critic and I don’t want this blog to turn into a review site (that’s why I refrain from reviewing movies and albums until after the end of the year, also if April started reviewing every book she reads 80% of the posts would be book reviews). But here goes anyway.

Crime and Punishment was one of those classics that for some reason I never got around to reading until now. I stole the book from my brother Kevin when he left for his mission a couple of years ago. After that it just sat on my shelf, making me look smart. Not until recently did I actually pull it out of our bookcase. April and I read it together, trading it back and forth and having our own mini book club. This was a lot of fun and also helped us to remember characters and plot developments.

Crime and Punishment is probably the best work of fiction that I’ve read since I finished Angle of Repose a few years ago. Dostoevsky’s prose is not as beautiful as Stegner’s or Steinbeck’s, for that matter (though some of this was likely lost in translation). Still, I have never read a book that did a better job of putting me inside the head of the protagonist, a protagonist who is a murderer. It is amazing how realistically his thought process is laid out for the reader. You really get to follow this guy through his rationalization. Importantly this book shows how good people can do horrible things.

Crime and Punishment also has a healthy share of page turning suspense. Dostoevsky’s writing left me guessing and was I surprised by most of the twists and turns. The cat and mouse between the protagonist and the detective is fantastic. The timing that Dostoevsky uses in their dialogue is perfect.

Towards the end of the book there are some touching sequences. And throughout the narrative a strong sense of reality pervades. It was fun to revisit Russia in literary form. I was there ‘literary-ily’ last summer when I read Master and Margarita. Some day I will go there for real. Both novels have something of a similar feel though they are radically different in almost every other respect. Master and Margarita is more of a dark fantasy novel, a retelling of the Faust legend. In both books I struggled to keep track of the Russian names. Fortunately the Pevear and Volokhonsky edition that I used has a helpful table of names at the front. This edition also has translators’ footnotes which are helpful in understanding not only translation issues but references to places and people as well as for understanding the context of many of the events and references in the work.

Youtube of the week: Filipino thriller

Just about everyone on the planet has seen this by now. But it takes me back to my mission where I visited a couple of Filipino prisons and some mental institutions as well. I served in this area called Mandaluyong in the middle of Manila where there are so many prisons and mental institutions that the joke, when anyone says that they are from Mandaluong, is to ask them “sa loob ba?” (from inside?). The conditions inside these places were nightmarish. We once had an investigator who was committed to the largest such mental institution by his aunt as retaliation for listening to missionaries. We went to visit him. He was in one of many large rooms where he and about a hundred other people lay chained to beds that were jammed next to each other. There were people howling and screaming. We got his aunt to let him out after a couple of weeks. As far as I know he never did join the church. But on a lighter note here are prison inmates in Cebu which is 365 miles south of Manila doing their famous Thriller reenactment.


Catherine said...

I am so glad you've finally read Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. This is probably in my top 5 books (excluding all of the scriptures) of all time. I was really touched by the theme of the atonement throughout the novel. A beautiful, beautiful book.

SGarff said...